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Agency Proposed to Cut Desert Use of Ground Water

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Predicting that the Antelope Valley is running out of ground water, a water district Tuesday proposed creating a government agency with the power to limit pumping, prohibit water exports, tax residents of the region and impose fees on landowners for drawing water from their own wells.

Opening a new chapter in the Antelope Valley’s drought-induced water debate, directors of the Palmdale Water District voted 5 to 0 to seek community support for establishing a ground-water management district.

If they succeed in generating public backing, the directors would ask the state Legislature to authorize formation of the new, more powerful, district.

The proposal, the first of its kind for the Antelope Valley, originates in the district’s concern that the valley’s ground water problems are worsening under current laws that permit property owners to sink wells and pump as much water as they can.

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Last month, a two-year study by a consultant hired by the Palmdale district concluded that the Antelope Valley could exhaust its supply of ground water within 40 years if the current rate of pumping continues. The study also said the valley has been over-pumping its ground water for decades.

Underneath most of the Antelope Valley is a large aquifer that provides much of the valley’s water. At present, it is pumped from hundreds of wells belonging to farmers, landowners and dozens of private and public water agencies--each of which decides how much water to draw.

Palmdale officials proposed a nine-member appointed board--to be made up of members representing various interest groups--such as farmers, Palmdale and Lancaster and the county government. The panel would monitor pumping valleywide, ensure it does not exceed safe limits, have the power to limit water exports and levy taxes or pumping fees to support its work.

“There has to be an equitable answer for all of us. We have to live together,” said Les Carter, president of the Palmdale district board. District officials said they decided to try the cooperative approach rather than starting a complex legal fight over the area’s water rights.

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State officials fear a sixth year of drought in California, and signs of the problem have already surfaced in the Antelope Valley. Researchers believe many cracks in the ground found this year in Lancaster and at Edwards Air Force Base are the result of sinking soil due to ground-water pumping.

Palmdale district officials said they will discuss their proposal with other public and private water agencies and government officials in the Antelope Valley in hopes of agreeing on a proposal to take to the Legislature. But if that fails, they said, they were not ruling out going to court.

Officials of the state Department of Water Resources said Tuesday that California has about a dozen public agencies that regulate ground-water use in areas such as Orange and Santa Clara counties. Elsewhere, water rights have been settled through an often long and costly legal process called adjudication. But the Antelope Valley has not engaged in such adjudication.

According to the study conducted for the district by Law Environmental Inc. of Burbank, the Antelope Valley has used more ground water than nature has replaced in all but three years since 1956. Last year, for example, the study said 78,178 acre-feet of water was pumped, contrasted with 15,985 acre-feet replenished.

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